Council Races Top $1 Million Four Days Before Filing Deadline

It’s filing week at King County Elections; any last-minute candidates who want to jump into the seven city council races (or to run for any of the four King County Council seats that are on the ballot, including the two that are already contested) has until Friday to do so.

Meanwhile, the current crop of council candidates—57 in all—have reported their latest fundraising numbers, and the frontrunners (at least in terms of fundraising) are becoming clear. Readers who protest “horse-race” coverage should rethink their stance: In the era of democracy vouchers, which allow every Seattle resident can contribute up to $100, at no cost, to the candidate or candidates of their choice, fundraising is a pretty good proxy for support. Candidates who can’t qualify for democracy vouchers—because they couldn’t muster 150 signatures from registered voters and 150 $10 contributions—will have less money on the books, and candidates who qualify early and solicit vouchers often will have more. Outliers—the Kshama Sawants and Ari Hoffmans, who decline to participate in the voucher program and are exempt from spending limits—should be looked at individually, as I do below.

Collectively, the 57 candidates have raised just over $1 million.

In District 1 (West Seattle), the incumbent, Lisa Herbold, is taking full advantage of the voucher program, as well as the fact that no one particularly credible has stepped up to oppose her (and one of her opponents, Lil’ Woody’s Popcorn owner Jesse Greene, has dropped out). More than two-thirds of Herbold’s 830 contributions, which total nearly $56,000, have come from inside her district, and just 3 percent are from outside Seattle. (More than 80 percent of Herbold’s fundraising is from democracy vouchers, which enable every Seattle resident to contribute up to $100 in public funds to the candidate or candidates of their choice). Herbold’s nominal opponents, attorney Phil Tavel and SPD officer Brendan Kolding, lag far behind: Tavel has brought in about $14,000 in contributions and is more than $5,200 in the red despite spending $10,590 of his own money, and Kolding, who has qualified for vouchers, has raised just $9,800.

Readers who protest “horse-race” coverage should rethink their stance: In the era of democracy vouchers, which allow every Seattle resident can contribute up to $100, at no cost, to the candidate or candidates of their choice, fundraising is a pretty good proxy for support.

In District 2, second-time candidate Tammy Morales continues to lead the race with the help of more than $38,000 in voucher funding, raising a total of $75,000. Her closest opponent in the money race is conservative  bounce house rental company owner Ari Hoffman, who has raised nearly $45,000 in his non-voucher campaign (which allows him to accept contributions of up to $500, or double the limit imposed on Morales and other voucher candidates.) Rainier Valley Greenways activist Phyllis Porter saw a voucher-fueled surge in her fundraising last month, raising her take to more than $28,000 total. Former SPD officer Mark Solomon and current Seattle City Light employee Christopher Peguero are lagging, but both have qualified for vouchers and could see a surge this month.

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The real fundraising news is in District 3, where incumbent Kshama Sawant, who is not taking vouchers because, she says, her political opponents are likely to spend a million dollars or more to beat her, has raised more than any candidate in any race, with $102,000. Nearly half of that total—46 percent—comes not just from outside District 3, but outside city limits, and only 1 in 5 Sawant donations come from inside her nominal council district. Pot shop owner Logan Bowers, who has already been released from the $75,000 primary spending limit thanks to Sawant’s big numbers, has raised more than $82,000—most of that in vouchers, and 39 percent of it from the district (17 percent of Bowers’ contributors are from outside city limits). Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce leader Egan Orion and Seattle School Board member Zachary DeWolf, who each entered the race about a month ago, are roughly tied in fundraising with about $9,000 each, but both have qualified for vouchers—as has County public defender Ami Nguyen, who raised just $1,900 last month, bringing her total to just over $18,000. However, nearly two-thirds of Nguyen’s support so far comes from outside city limits, which could hinder her ability to raise money through vouchers, which can only be used by Seattle residents. (Update: After this piece ran, Nguyen reported receiving $56,000 in voucher funding, so so much for that prediction!)

Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed Shaun Scott outpaced former Tim Burgess aide Alex Pedersen in the District 4 race this month, with nearly $75,000 to Pedersen’s $53,000 (I’m not counting the $18,500 Pedersen has contributed to his own campaign.) Union-backed UW researcher Emily Myers got a boost from vouchers to bring her total above $44,000, and she’s using some of that money to pay a consulting firm, Northwest Passage, that has worked for many successful council candidates in the past. Cathy Tuttle, the founder of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, had a surprise surge last month, going from almost nothing to almost $24,000 with the help of more than $8,000 in vouchers.

Nearly half of District 3 incumbent Kshama Sawant’s campaign funding—46 percent—comes from outside the city of Seattle, and just 20 percent of her donations come from inside her district. For former council member Heidi Wills, running in District 6, those numbers are 36 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

The race for District 5 is a little sleepier, with only one challenger, attorney Ann Davison Sattler, making anything like a credible financial run at incumbent Debora Juarez, with about $11,000 in contributions (a number that’s less impressive when you consider that Sattler, like Hoffman and Sawant, is opting out of the voucher program and can take contributions of up $500. Juarez has had a slow start, but has raised about $32,000—none of that from vouchers, for which she has not yet qualified.

In District 6, where an astonishing 12 candidates are currently running to replace retiring incumbent Mike O’Brien, three candidates have raised between $40,000 and $55,000: Family physician Jay Fathi (just under $40,000), council member Sally Bagshaw aide Dan Strauss ($48,000), and former council member Heidi Wills ($55,000). All three fundraising frontrunner have qualified for vouchers, but only Fathi and Strauss have collected them so far. Of the three, Wills has the most money coming in from outside the district—82 percent, with 36 percent of her total coming from outside the city.

The race to replace retiring city council member Sally Bagshaw in District 7 has an equally absurd number of candidates, but is somehow less dynamic, pitting a former Nick Licata campaign manager-turned-assistant city attorney (Andrew Lewis, with $57,500) against a former interim Seattle police chief (Jim Pugel, with $43,000) against a downtown real-estate guy and urbanist (Michael George, with $39,000) against… nine other people, including Magnolia activist (and 2009 mayoral also-ran) Elizabeth Campbell and former Seattle Supersonic (and 2011 council also-ran) James Donaldson. Jason Williams, a Microsoft product marketer who lives in Magnolia, is in fourth place in the fundraising race with just under $20,000.


6 thoughts on “Council Races Top $1 Million Four Days Before Filing Deadline”

  1. I have to disagree with you on District 1. Herbold (the incumbent), and her challenger Tavel has $14K before even filing, and you don’t call that a serious challenge? If Herbold was secure in her seat she would have a insurmountable war chest, but $56K is hardly formidable or uncatchable. Once Tavel has filed he will undoubtedly close the gap. In West Seattle Tavel is well known and well-liked. Herbold barely won her seat to begin with, and her popularity has only diminished since taking office.

    1. Tavel has ran and lost before for this very same seat. He came in third with 18.2% of the vote to Herbold’s 30.1% (he also lost a 2014 judicial election as well). I’m a D1 resident (which includes South Park, not just West Seattle), I only know him from his political races. His website has his “priorities” listed, but no policy positions. I’m not a big fan of Herbold by any means, but I don’t think people are going to just elect someone on “well-liked” in West Seattle status alone.
      I think Lisa’s average fundraising turnout has more to do with people not taking her challengers seriously, and assuming she will be re-elected. As Erica mentioned, Jesse Greene is out and Brendan Kolding has even less money than Tavel. Kolding is well liked by Safe Seattle, which is probably not a benefit in a district that ultimately pushed Braddock and Herbold through to the general election last time.

    2. A huge chunk of that is his own money, and, notably, Herbold has nearly five times as many contributors from District 1. Tavel is entering perennial candidate territory, and is looking at another walloping like last time around.

      1. You mean she has five times more vouchers. I dont consider those vouchers real
        contributions. Herbold is a candidate that spent a good part of her first term in
        office pushing a head tax that went no where each and everry time.

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